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Wednesday 07 November 2012

Manchester United attack gives Ferguson cause for optimism

United and Chelsea in UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday night

  • United's Chris Smalling is set to feature for the first time this season in Braga

  • Chelsea's players practise for their "must-win" match at home to Shakhtar Donetsk

Braga v Manchester United

Sir Alex Ferguson is optimistic that his Manchester United squad can go all the way in the UEFA Champions League this season and has identified Real Madrid, Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund as their main rivals.

United can secure a place in the last 16 of the competition with victory in their Group H match with Braga at the Estadio AXA, or even a draw, depending on the outcome of Cluj's match against Galatasaray.

"We are collecting a good group of outstanding young midfield players"
Sir Alex Ferguson

Asked if he felt he had a group of players capable of winning the tournament this season, Ferguson said: "I made a point about how strong the Champions League is and we will need to perform at a real high level to do that.

"You can't look past Real Madrid and Barcelona, and Dortmund's campaign will be about the Champions League this year. I hope we can join them, because we have a good squad of players.

"The area I'm most pleased about is the attacking part of my team; there are goals there. Obviously we have some work to do on the defending part, but the other encouraging part is that bit by bit, we are collecting a good group of outstanding young midfield players."

Ferguson’s options have been boosted by the return to fitness of Chris Smalling, who, he has indicated, is in line for his first appearance of the season tonight. Further good news for United is that fellow defender Phil Jones, who is also yet to play this campaign due to back and knee problems, is set to resume full training next week.

Chelsea v Shakhtar Donetsk

Roberto Di Matteo has called on his Chelsea side to give a “perfect” performance as they seek to avenge their defeat by Shakhtar Donetsk two weeks ago in Group E.

As well as beating Chelsea 2-1 in the Ukraine, Shakhtar have won 23 successive league matches but Di Matteo is confident his team will draw level on seven points with the group leaders, despite the absence of the injured Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole.

"We have to play the perfect game to beat Shakhtar"
Roberto Di Matteo

"There are some comparisons certainly to last season when we had must-win games,” Di Matteo said. “Tomorrow is another like that. Fortunately we have players with the experience who have been through that before. We certainly have to win our home games. If we win, it’s in our own hands and that’s what we want, but we need to be at our best.

"We have to play the perfect game to beat Shakhtar, but we’re strong at home. We’ve shown that over many years and we’ll be fired up for this game to win it. Every individual player going on the pitch has to perform at the highest of their ability."

UEFA Champions League fixtures

Group E

Chelsea v Shakhtar Donetsk
Juventus v Nordsjaelland

Group H
Braga v Manchester United
Cluj v Galatasaray

  • Yaya Toure's spectacular volley for Manchester City halved Ajax's lead

  • Theo Walcott gives Arsenal the lead against Schalke but they had to hold on to draw

Manchester City 2-2 Ajax

Roberto Mancini fears that his Manchester City side’s hopes of reaching the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League are “finished” after they failed to beat Ajax at the Etihad Stadium.

City's hopes of securing the victory they needed were damaged as they conceded twice to Siem de Jong from corners inside the opening 17 minutes. Yaya Toure replied with a superb volley after 25 minutes but despite Sergio Aguero's equaliser 16 minutes from time and plenty of attacking intent, City could not force themselves in front.

"In a game as important as this you can't concede two goals from corners"
Roberto Mancini

"Unfortunately we took only one point and now it is finished for the Champions League," Mancini said.

Progress for City is mathematically possible, but they have to beat Real Madrid at home in two weeks and Borussia Dortmund away and hope other results in Group D go in their favour.

"If our destiny is we win the next two games and go to the second stage, it is our destiny that we win the Champions League," Mancini said. "In a game as important as this you can't concede two goals from corners."

Schalke 2-2 Arsenal

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger remains confident of reaching the knockout stage despite seeing his side surrender a two-goal lead at Schalke last night.

First-half efforts in quick succession from Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud helped Arsenal to overcome a shaky start and put them on course for three Group B points in Germany.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar reduced the deficit for Schalke in first-half stoppage time and Jefferson Farfan earned the German side a point when his strike deflected in off Thomas Vermaelen.

"We are in a position where we must beat Montpellier"
Arsene Wenger

Schalke continue to lead the group on eight points, a point ahead of Arsenal, with both teams able to secure qualification in two weeks.

"The group is open," Wenger said, whose side next welcome Montpellier to the Emirates Stadium. "We are of course in a position where you want to win our home game.

"If we win, we have a 50% chance to be through because Schalke plays Olympiacos here. They are in a position where they have absolutely to win that game as well.

"It will, of course, depend on our result first against Montpellier and then we will see what happens here. It could go to the last game; we could, with luck, do it in the next game. Anyway, we are in a position where we must win against Montpellier."

UEFA Champions League results

Group B
Schalke 2-2 Arsenal
Olympiacos 3-1 Montpellier

Group D
Manchester City 2-2 Ajax
Real Madrid 2-2 Borussia Dortmund

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Key Points

  • Manchester United and Chelsea in action tonight
  • United manager Sir Alex Ferguson satisfied with free-scoring attack
  • Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo calls for 'perfect game' against Shakhtar Donetsk